Just how polarized are we as a country? The Pew Research Center revealed last week that Democrats and Republicans don’t have many friends of the opposite party. According to a new poll, 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans have just a few or zero close friends from across the political aisle. And that number has been declining. As CNN reported, “The number of Democrats and Republicans who saw the opposing party as ‘very unfavorable’ has more than doubled from 16% and 17%, respectively, in 1994, to a broader 44% and 45% today, the survey found.”
None of this surprised me. Earlier this spring I invited my mother’s old friend and her partner to a Passover Seder at my house. We had hosted the couple on at least a half dozen occasions in recent years, with nothing less than pleasant results. She and my mother, who were friends from elementary school, reminisced about old times. We all chatted about family, traveling, food, children—everything except politics. But last April she told me she couldn’t come to my house anymore because of Donald Trump. Never mind that I hadn’t voted for the guy, but something about “Republicans in Congress” and my political views meant she didn’t think “this was an appropriate time” to be in my house.
It has been a very challenging year for those of us who want to keep friends with other political perspectives, but as a conservative who has been a part of Jewish (read overwhelmingly Democratic) communities in liberal neighborhoods in Blue America for my whole life I have had some practice. I do occasionally hear people lament that they don’t have friends of different political persuasions and so I thought I might offer some advice.
1) Politics is not life. Yes, it’s true if you actually think Donald Trump is the living embodiment of Adolf Hitler, this won’t matter to you. But it may be useful to remember that he’s not and that almost half of your fellow countrymen voted for him. And, by the way, no one has asked you to befriend Donald Trump.
2) Don’t assume everyone shares your political views. If you start talking about gun control or abortion or how much you enjoyed Hilary Clinton’s new memoir and everyone is nodding along except there is one person at the table who is noticeably silent, maybe it’s time to change the topic.
3) Yes there are other topics. For parents this should be an easy one. There is almost no mother or father who cannot carry on a conversation about any matter related to children. From sleep training to adolescent hormones, there are challenges that Republicans and Democrats share. It doesn’t have to be real estate prices or the weather either. Novels you’ve enjoyed, a movie you saw recently—we are really not so one-dimensional that we have to bring everything back to politics, are we?
4) A little less talk, a little more action. I play tennis regularly with a half dozen different women. There is only one who might share some of my political views. We all have a great time together and we chat a little while changing sides of the court, but frankly no one has the time or inclination for a political debate during our precious time for exercise.
5) Get off of social media. There are plenty of people whose political views I wouldn’t know at all if it weren’t for the fact that I see them on Facebook. If we are going to read the political posts of our friends, we can’t become so easily infuriated by them. Maybe we should all do a little less sharing or resolve to develop a thicker skin.